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Thousands in Tel Aviv as overhaul demos show no sign of fatigue after 1st bill passed

Thousands of protesters waving Israeli flags rallied against the judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, with the protest movement offering no indication that it plans to fold after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government passed the first piece of legislation from its judicial overhaul last week.

“You have ruined the country and we will fix it. Democracy! Democracy!” chanted demonstrators in the coastal city, which has become the epicenter of anti-government demonstrations since the overhaul was unveiled in January.

The proposals have split the nation and triggered the biggest protest movement in Israel’s history.

Last Monday, Netanyahu and his hardline coalition allies approved the reasonableness law, a key part of the package that critics fear will weaken Israel’s liberal democratic character. The legislation bars judges from striking down government decisions they deem unreasonable.

Petitions against the law have been filed to the High Court, with an unprecedented 15-judge panel to hear them next month.

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Wednesday’s demonstration followed even larger ones that took place across the country on Saturday night, kicking off the 30th week of protests and amassing over 200,000 Israelis.

עשרות אלפי מוחים ומוחות הגיעו לצעוד מבית העצמאות לבית המשפט במחוזי בתל אביב בצעדת תמיכה במערכת המשפט ושומרי הסף. אין על העם הזה, אין על הנחישות הזו ואין מצב שישראל תפסיד במאבק הזה ❤️✊????????

— Moshe Radman Abutbul משה רדמן אבוטבול (@RadmanMoshe) August 2, 2023

Protesters Wednesday first gathered on Rothschild Boulevard before marching to the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, in a show of support for the judiciary. From there, they continued to Kaplan Street, the site of the main weekly rallies.

Leading the march were former justice ministers Tzipi Livni and Avi Nissenkorn along with former Supreme Court justice Yoram Danziger and several other former judges.

רוטשילד. עכשיו. שופטים בדימוס מובילים צעדה ענקית להגנת בית המשפט.

לא נרפה ✊

— Ran Harnevo (@harnevo) August 2, 2023

“I’m against the government. What it’s doing is moving all the power to one authority,” protester Roei Ben Haim, 40, told AFP. “Once they ruin the system, it becomes important to me to take to the streets to tell them it won’t pass.”

He said the reasonableness law in itself was not that important, but because “it’s the first act the government wants to cancel” people “must show the government we’re determined in the face of any action it takes.”

The next proposal from the overhaul that Netanyahu intends to pass is one allowing the government a greater say in the appointment of judges.

People wave national flags during a demonstration against the parliament’s approval of a key judicial reform pushed through by the hard-right government in defiance of months-long mass protests, on August 2, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Critics accuse Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, of trying to use the reforms to quash possible judgments against him. He rejects the accusation as well as the legitimacy of the charges against him.

Netanyahu’s coalition government, which includes far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, argues that the proposed changes to the judiciary are needed to ensure a better balance of power between elected officials and judges.

“There’s no such thing as democracy without the Supreme Court,” chanted the protesters on Wednesday evening.

Opponents of the government’s judicial overhaul protest in Tel Aviv on August 2, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Demonstrations have drawn support from across the political spectrum and among secular and religious groups, blue-collar and tech sector workers, peace activists and military reservists.

The proposed changes have also drawn criticism from Israel’s ally the United States.

US President Joe Biden himself has repeatedly aired concerns, urging Israeli leaders not to rush the increasingly “divisive” reforms.